Thursday, January 10, 2013

So Let's Talk About Modesty Blogs

Modesty. Even just typing the word makes the back of my neck itch like I'm in a wool jumper. I recently fell into the modesty blog world several months ago when I was home sick from work and in my boredom, doing some extensive googling. I was intrigued, amused, slightly repulsed and found myself wondering how even though I appear to be theologically very similar to a number of these bloggers, we are clearly at opposite ends of the fashion spectrum.

Now if I was going to choose my religion based solely on modesty blogs I would be Mormon. That sounds flippant I know, but Mormon bloggers seem to have the modest yet fashionable lifestyle locked down. They follow fashion and its trends, they take inspiration from popular high end designers, but they also know how to carefully edit their outfits so they are not trashtastic or frumpy. Many times when reading conservative Christian fashion blogs there seems to be an element of shame attached to the way women are supposed to dress. And before I get accused of “attacking” people let me be clear that the women and girls who have these blogs appear to be lovely Godly individuals.

But I read things on these blogs and in the comment sections that baffle and infuriate me. How if you are showing your collarbones your shirt is too low. Why you ask? Because men are attracted to collarbones. Men also are enthralled by kneecaps apparently, because every skirt should be always below the knee if not to the ankles, and if there is any possible way that someone, aka a MAN! may be able to even slightly determine that you have two breasts and not a swaddled up mono boob then clearly, you madam, are a strumpet. Let us not even mention how seeing the outline of a woman's leg and or butt in a pair of trousers sends men everywhere running for their prayer closets.

Most modest fashion bloggers state that they have their blogs in order to convey that yes! It is possible to dress in a modest, yet feminine and attractive way, that is also God glorifying. They state that modesty is far more an issue of the heart than of outward appearance. These ideas are ones I can get behind and applaud with vigor. I too love Jesus, and I too wish to dress in a way that glorifies God, but as with many other concepts in life it is the practical application of this idea that ends with me standing on my doorstep shaking a blouse in one hand, skirt in the other, and screeching, “I have nothing to wear!”

Probably the most common Bible verses used to support modest dressing are 1 Timothy 2:9 and Deuteronomy 22:5. Let's talk about the verse in Deuteronomy first. There is no consensus about what this verse means, try googling this verse and reading some blog posts, it gets a little cray cray. What people do agree on is that this verse is dealing with gender differences in clothing, but everything else is up for grabs. Some view this as a statement that women should not dress in the battle gear of a man, that the verse is discussing women not being in the military. Another interpretation is that we are not allowed to be transvestites. But the explanation I saw most often on modesty blogs was the assumption that the passage prohibits women from wearing pants, because they are a masculine article of clothing.

Ok, let's take a little trip down logic lane. So 99% of these bloggers acknowledge that men and women during OT Israel wore the same exact tunics, the only differences being ornamentation and styling. Somehow though many of these bloggers next conclusion is that all of a sudden men started wearing pants, while women wore dresses and skirts, and that is the way it has been until the evils of feminism (among other things) made their way into our culture. There is no basis to support that pants are some historical gift to men and men only. If you persist in this viewpoint you should probably add makeup, jewelry, high-heels, and stockings, to the list of things for men to wear. I'm sure that this statement could be controversial, but I have actually done extensive research and written papers on, to name a few, the history of high heeled shoes, and the makeup practices of the Egyptians, and men wore both, even in “Western Christian countries”. The spread of pants across Europe has more to do with the Mongols and riding horses with ease as they waged war, then any kind of mandate from God. Also I would like to point out that in Genesis 3, when God clothed Adam and Eve after the fall, he did so with the exact same garment, tunics of skin. He didn't specify pants of skin for Adam and a dress of skin for Eve. If we are going to consider scripture in our clothing choices we need to consult all of it.

1 Timothy 2:9 is the verse that says women should adorn themselves with modest apparel and not with braided hair or pearls or jewels. The context of this verse deals with how women should conduct themselves at a worship service to God. The duties of men in worship have just been listed and now the same thing is being done for women. So yes women, don't dress inappropriately for the worship service. In my mind this means don't be immodest, but also don't wear an evening dress to worship, because a church service is not the right place for that garment. Reading modesty blogs, many of them seem to ignore the worship context this verse has, and apply it with quite the liberally painted brush to every area of life. Please don't misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with trying to find application in our daily lives with this text, but I do believe that a distinction can be made in what we wear to church and what we wear during the rest of the week. Also some very odd conclusions have been made on blogs about what this verse is saying. More than once I've read that because this verse tells women to be modest that means no clothing that shows any leg over the knee, the back, any of the chest below the collarbones, the shoulders, upper arms, and if a woman wears pants she must have a long tunic or short dress covering her behind. Some say the Apostle Paul instructs women to be covered in loose garments from neck to ankle. Another wrote on their blog that they will not wear jewelry because that is what prostitutes in biblical times wore.

Now I don't like to get all super duper specific with my “fashion rules”, which I'm sure surprises absolutely no one. The only time I adhere to more set list of guidelines is on Sundays for church since I feel, as I stated above, there is biblical precedence for it. I tend to wear no denim, higher necklines, no sleeveless, skirts to the knee, and lower heels. I have sky high heels aplenty and many a skirt that lands above my knees, but I classify those as party clothing. Church is many wonderful things including joy filled and celebratory but it is not a party, even though there is alcohol and the occasional rowdy song.

When I went through my super duper hardcore modesty blog reading phase I found myself viewing women in a different way that I had before. Even though I didn't agree with many of the ideas I was reading, I had still absorbed them and was starting to see women as nothing more than a collection of body parts that were or were not “immodest”. She's not showing her knees but she has a tanktop on! You can see her bra strap! OMG I think I just caught a glimpse of her cleavage! Instead of looking a woman in the face and seeing the individual she was, I was looking at her body to see if I could find something to judge. Dismissing somebody as a possible friend before they have ever even spoken a word to me. God created us in HIS image, I think that fact by itself should give us a lot to ponder before we pronounce judgment on someone we have never met, let alone our friends and family. Our bodies are not shameful. God created us naked. Only after our sin did we become clothed. If Adam and Eve had not fallen what would have happened with humans wearing/not wearing clothing? It is not clothing that makes us holy.

My standard for dress it to have R E S P E C T. For myself, and for the Lord. I want to honor God and feel great about the way I look. I don't believe that those two statements are mutually exclusive.

Basically that sums it up, but I would like to address a few other topics I frequently read on these blogs and throw in some miscellaneous thoughts I have on modesty.

There is an oft quoted line, "we are to be set apart from the world". This is taken to mean that you should pay absolutely no attention to what is going on in the world in terms of fashion, and that you should dress very differently so as to make it completely obvious just how different you are. Make it so obvious that people stop and stare at you and occasionally maybe even laugh at you or poke fun or even sneer, because then you will know you are doing something right because if you are being righteous you will be reviled! Righteous and Reviled is my new 80's throwback alternative band name BTW, copyright now.

So I think we need to be careful here. More than likely if you are very openly a Christian at some point you will be made fun of. For most Christians living in Western countries mean words are about at far as it will go. People will make fun of you for being committed to abstinence, for not watching porn, for believing in creationism, for reading your Bible, maybe for being homeschooled, or for not doing drugs. Being criticized for a behavior does not automatically make that behavior right.

And now let us discuss men lusting. From the amount of times the lust of men is referenced on modesty blogs one would assume that men have no time to get anything done because they are too busy drooling over any women they walk by, or see on TV, or catch a glimpse of in a magazine. I am not going to argue that men don't like visual stimuli, the enormity of the porn industry proves they do. Yes men lust after women, I agree. However I think that telling a woman to not wear something because men may lust after her is not the best response to a garment, and should not be anyone's first response. If you wish to honor God and respect yourself with your clothing choices, I don't think you will need to torture yourself with endless questions about if every garment you own will cause a man to stumble. Is there anything wrong with considering other people, male and female, when you make clothing choices? No, but don't make potential lust your constant companion when staring into your closet.

If you have felt convicted by Jesus to only wear long skirts, or loose high-necked shirts, to not put on high-heels, and to wear minimal or no makeup, I support your belief. I would not want a woman to violate her conscious because I think there is nothing inappropriate about a pair of leopard print jeans. But you do not have the biblical authority to tell me that heels over two inches are sinful, that a pair of jeans means I do not know the love of Jesus. I could write much more about the eye and the plank and the removing it before the flapping of the gums begins but I think I'm done with the whole modesty business! Well... let me just leave you with a final random thought.

Please note: leggings do not make any dress or skirt longer, they are not magical garments found in Harry Potter, they simply cover your legs. People can still see your legs and how short your skirt is. A public service announcement since apparently many MANY people cannot grasp this concept.